At White House event, Alaska Gov. Dunleavy lauds Trump deregulation as restoring “American dream”

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a White House event celebrating President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda on Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Joyce N. Boghosian/White House)

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy flew to Washington, D.C. to play a supporting role at a White House event Thursday that celebrated President Donald Trump’s deregulation initiatives, including a new overhaul of a bedrock environmental law.

The event was held on the White House lawn, where a huge crane appeared to be lifting a set of weights out of the back of a pickup truck — a symbol of the Trump administration’s efforts to lift the weight of federal regulations.

“Before I came into office, American workers were smothered by merciless avalanche of wasteful and expensive and intrusive federal regulation,” Trump said.

The president has loosened rules for banks that were originally imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. He’s made it harder to set aside critical habitat for endangered species. And he’s reduced the number of waterways covered by the Clean Water Act.

The White House says 20 of the administration’s major deregulation actions should collectively save American consumers and businesses more than $220 billion a year.

Dunleavy used his two minutes at the podium to praise Trump for expanding elderly Americans’ access to telehealth through the Medicare program. He also touted the president’s efforts to scale back review of resource development projects, which includes Thursday’s release of a 73-page overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“What you’ve done is, when the land owner goes and decides that they want to do a little landscaping on their property: Do they have to look over their shoulder and wonder if big government is watching them? Can they do what they need to do on their private property?” Dunleavy said. “You’ve restored the hope that they can realize the American dream.”

Not everyone agreed with the governor, as environmental groups, including those that work in Alaska, roundly criticized Trump’s proposed revisions to NEPA.

“It’s very disturbing to hear the governor of Alaska speak about how rolling back NEPA achieves the American dream,” said Brian Litmans, legal director at Trustees for Alaska, a law firm that fights for environmental protections in the state.

NEPA was passed Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970.

It sets out required reviews for federal actions that could have environmental effects, and it has huge implications across the country and in Alaska in particular — it applies to both the Pebble Mine and the Willow project, the next major oil development proposed by ConocoPhillips on the North Slope.

Underscoring the stakes for the state, dozens of Alaska entities, interest groups and individuals weighed in on the administration’s preliminary NEPA revisions, from the Alaska Oil and Gas Association to The Audubon Society’s local outpost to Dunleavy’s administration itself.

The Trump administration said Thursday’s proposal will speed reviews of projects that developers often criticize as too slow.

But conservation groups point out that the revisions will allow projects to escape analysis of their climate change impacts, by deleting a requirement that agencies study indirect and “cumulative” environmental effects.

And the effort to expedite reviews will undermine the original vision for NEPA, which is to draw out the range of possible impacts of projects, Litmans said.

“We are now left with projects where we won’t know if our salmon runs will be destroyed. We won’t know if our water’s going to be polluted,” he said. “And our governor is standing next to our president applauding that — applauding an outcome that can destroy the very resources of Alaska that we all treasure.”

Litmans noted the huge number of Trump administration deregulation initiatives that have been rejected as illegal by the courts. And he argued that numerous aspects of the NEPA overhaul conflict with the legislation itself, leaving it vulnerable to a likely lawsuit.

In addition to the event on the White House lawn, a spokesman for Dunleavy said the governor attended a roundtable meeting with Trump’s economic advisor, Larry Kudlow. He did not release additional details about Dunleavy’s itinerary in Washington.